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York County power line becomes issue in 28th Senate District race
Jay McGinnis, a New Park farmer, talks about his decision to fight Transource as they plan to build new electric transmission lines in southern York County
State Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill has not done enough to protect southern York County residents who could be affected by a proposed cross-state transmission line, according to the man who hopes to challenge her for a state Senate seat.
Shawn Mauck, West York's Democratic mayor, said Phillips-Hill only started to stand up for those property owners after she learned he also was making a run for the 28th Senate District seat being vacated by gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner.
“If she had been listening to her constituents six months ago, she would have already been on this,” he said.
“She’s trying to play both sides,” Mauck added, pointing to campaign contributions Phillips-Hill has received from utility companies.
According to campaign finance reports, Phillips-Hill received $2,250 from five electric and utility companies, including these donations:
- NiSource Inc. Political Action Committee, Columbus, Ohio: $250
- Action Committee for Rural Electrification, Trenton, New Jersey: $250
- FirstEnergy Political Action Committee, Akron, Ohio: $250
- Shipley Energy Fund, York: $1,000
- Exelon Political Action Committee, Washington, D.C.: $500
Her campaign's cash balance entering 2018 was $50,762.
Mauck said Phillips-Hill knew about the project in June, when Transource Energy announced it was hired to build the $320 million "market efficiency" project.
Campaign finance reports also show that Phillips-Hill received a $250 donation from Bravo Political Action Committee, the PAC of a Harrisburg-based public relations firm. Transouce Energy contracted Bravo Group to execute its public relations campaign.
“Bravo Group supports Democrats and Republicans alike,” Bravo Group senior director Jeanette Krebs said. “This contribution was not made on behalf of Transource Energy.”
Bravo’s PAC donated $1,000 each to Gov. Tom Wolf and the Wagner for Senate campaigns in 2016.
Phillips-Hill said she's never taken a dime from Transource or PJM, who "stand to benefit from this proposed project."
PJM Interconnection, the nation's largest regional grid that manages electricity, contracted Transource to oversee the project's construction. PJM said it wants to add the transmission line to allow electricity to flow south to northern Maryland and Washington, D.C.
The 16 miles of transmission line would connect a new substation in Lower Chanceford Township to the existing Conastone Substation, near Norrisville in Harford County, Maryland.
Phillips-Hill said she took a stand "to publicly oppose this project," and her constituents know she has "gone to bat for them." She said she's "steadfastly" put "people over politics."
"I would never let an office-hungry politician dictate my actions as a state representative," she added, referring to Mauck's claim she only stood up for residents after he announced his state Senate run.
Mauck said Phillips-Hill should have reacted faster to try to pass legislation that would protect landowners. He said he'd support a law that forces corporations to utilize existing infrastructure before using eminent domain.
“When you look at those power lines, there is an abandoned line literally feet away. ... If we had the right legislation in place, those corporations would have to look at them first,” he said.
There are no donations from utility companies on Mauck's campaign finance report. His largest check received is from Harrisburg-based Teamsters Local 776 Political Action Committee, which donated $1,000. Mauck's cash total entering 2018 was $978.90
"We are a representative government, and our elected officials need to represent all of us and not just the powerful and special interests that don’t serve the people,” Mauck said.
Phillips-Hill said she has attended five events in support of landowners that have spanned July to November. In addition, she said she has written three letters, one to Transource and two to the Public Utility Commission, in opposition of the project. She also has responded to constituents via letter, email and phone calls.
Her most recent letter, dated Feb. 12, to the PUC reads, "After carefully reviewing all application material, I am opposed to the application's proposal to despoil many pristine acres of preserved farmland in Southern York County by permitting construction of high-voltage transmission power lines."
In that letter, she also questioned why PJM and Transource needed to build a new power line, "which will be constructed parallel to three established high-voltage transmission power lines operating in York County.
"Since the intention of the applicant is to relieve congestion on the energy-grid, why not utilize transmission lines that are not operating at full capacity?" the lawmaker asked.
There is pending legislation in the state House to address deficiencies in the eminent domain process, Phillips-Hill acknowledged. And legislation is going to be drafted to protect taxpayer-funded farmland preservation, she added.
"There is only one person playing politics in southern York County, and its Shawn Mauck," Phillips-Hill said.